Saturday, 14 November 2015

Superman: American Alien #1 - What The Critics Are Saying

Superman: American Alien #1 is the first issue in a seven-part mini-series written by screenwriter Max Landis, which explores who Clark Kent is at seven different points in his life. The series is to have a new artist for each installment, with Nick Dragotta fulfilling art duties for issue one and the likes of Jock, Francis Manapul and Jae Lee stepping in for future issues. The series has been surrounded by a significant level of hype due mainly to Landis' passionate opinions about Superman which he has voiced online in several YouTube videos. The first issue finally saw release last Wednesday and this is what critics around the Internet had to say:

The Writing
The first issue of American Alien centers on Clark's attempts to master his flying abilities, while exploring the emotional consequences of being so wildly different from those you're surrounded by. Generally, most critics agreed that this issue was executed engagingly in spite of the fact it takes place during a time in Clark's life which has been featured heavily in previous stories. This is summed up in a review by IGN's Jesse Schedeen who believes that Landis has found "another novel approach" to telling stories about Superman's formative years. Most frequently praised was Landis' characterization of staple figures from the Superman mythos, with Jordan Richards of Adventures in Poor Taste saying in his review that "the characterization is on point for everyone, even Johnathan Kent (who I was a bit worried about early on), and it leads to a lot of tenderness throughout the book, which feels genuine and believable." Multiversity Comics' Keith Dooley agrees claiming Landis, "makes iconic and very familiar characters like Clark, Martha and Johnathan his own by exploring their thoughts through dialogue, action and a particularly powerful final two pages."

Indeed, this story appears to be a character driven tale - something not wholly surprising when considered Landis made it clear in one of his Superman YouTube videos 'Regarding Clark' that, "plot has never really fascinated me, character does." However, this focus on character over story hasn't pleased everyone and there were some critics who felt dissatisfied by Landis' latest comic-book offering. Oz Longworth over at Black Nerd Problems claimed the story carried through this issue boils down to, "Clark is scared of flight and then he's not." Newsarama's Pierce Lydon also felt this issue left something to be desired describing the character moments as "cutesy fluff", and claiming the book suffered as so much has already been said about this part of Clark's life that there's little else new to bring to the table. Lydon goes on to say that, "There's no way for Landis to surprise us. We know he'll learn to fly, and Landis is only able to give us a poorly conceived conflict at a drive-in movie to inject some kind of stakes into the book." This point is countered by Comic Book Resources who claim that the book is "not about believing a boy can fly; it's about why he doesn't want to."

The Art
The artwork in this issue has been provided by Nick Dragotta and Alex Guimaraes, to a mixed response from critics. Many praised this art team for their work here with Dragotta singled out for packing his characters with emotion which made them easy to connect with. IGN explain in their review that he "perfectly captures Clark's early attempts at flying and the raw emotion at play as Johnathan and Martha struggle to keep their son safe and deal with his unusual condition." Multiversity Comics echoes this opinion, saying that "Dragotta wrings emotions from the characters that are visceral and oftentimes heartbreaking in their execution." In the same review Guimaraes' colors received acclaim, with writer Keith Dooley praising him for his decision not to "intrude on the art with gaudy colors," and instead highlight "the emotional symbolism and beats of the story." Comic Book Resources were also a fan of Guimaraes work, singling him out for immersing Smallville in "lush pastels for a timeless sense of idyllic Americana." Black Nerd Problems also praised the work of this art team as "unquestionably gorgeous."
However, the art was not to everyone's liking with Dragotta's style taking criticism from some review sites. Adventures in Poor Taste said in their review that, "his characters can look a bit too cartoonish and exaggerated for their own good," with Newsarama agreeing that the stylized nature of Dragotta's characters meant that when Clark has an emotional outburst it's, "that much harder to take him seriously."

General Consensus:
Superman: American Alien #1 is definitely worth trying for those interested in getting inside Clark Kent's head and attempting to understand the mind of a young Man of Steel. However, those who prefer a grand in scope story as opposed to a more intimate character study may find themselves disappointed by Max Landis' latest comic-book offering. The artwork by Nick Dragotta and Alex Guimaraes also proved to be divisive, with some fans taking issue with the stylized design choices made by this creative team. Although, it is worth noting that others were quite enamored with these changes and so ultimately your opinion on the look of this book may come down simply to personal preference.


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